STEAM work makes the dream work

Chris Hunt

Chris Hunt is a Canadian who has lived in the UK for the past ten years, and has taken on both pastoral and academic leadership roles. He is assistant headteacher at Aureus School, a new Secondary school in Didcot, and is responsible for leading on the innovative STEAM specialism.

Follow @steamempower @AureusSchool

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The FIRST LEGO League competition // Images courtesy of author. The FIRST LEGO League competition // Images courtesy of author.

All schools are stretched. We know this, but as a brand-new school with only 120 students, our budget is extremely tight - especially when we factor in recruiting experienced staff. At Aureus School in Didcot, through STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths) specialism we are not only trying to teach our students how to be more creative. We, as staff, must do this as well in trying to make the budget work.

It has been challenging to lead a specialism on a budget of [drum roll...] £0, yet, due to innovative initiatives, we have been able to provide outstanding opportunities to our students through creative collaborations. By taking advantage of the fact we are right at the heart of the Science Corridor, we have worked with Harwell Campus, Oxford Science Park, Culham Science Centre and Milton Park, as well as arts “So far, we’ve had an archaeologist and a venture capitalist who invests in satellites.”facilities such as the Cornerstone in Didcot or Modern Art and Picture Gallery in Oxford. Through a range of activities, we have enhanced our students’ learning, and have provided outstanding opportunities to explore our STEAM specialism.

Being Creative

Even before Aureus opened, headteacher Hannah Wilson struck a deal with STEM Now. This organisation works with local schools, providing STEM workshops run by local ambassadors, and we have housed their liaison officer on our site in exchange for their extensive contacts. This demonstrated amazing foresight by Aureus, as it has already provided us with many exciting, impactful and free activities and resources.

For example, from September we have been able to participate in the FIRST LEGO League Challenge without any cost to us. It was also beneficial to run this competition as it enhanced our Science department’s professional development. The students learned how to code their robot. They also did an exceptional job learning about water: how we find it, transport it, use it and dispose of it. They also clearly enjoyed building tons of LEGO structures!

STEM Now has helped to organise a ‘Someone like you’ event. Here, over 25 local STEM ambassadors came to our school and gave students the opportunity to meet people who have similar backgrounds and interests, providing effective starting points on how to become engaged in these industries. It was spectacular to see such a very diverse range of ambassadors, covering a plethora of jobs across the STEAM spectrum.


Brilliantly, once you start creating networks, it becomes evident how quickly this can spiral into new and exciting opportunities. Aureus made some wonderful, long-lasting partnerships within the first six months of opening alone. Very quickly, we discovered and connected with a local science partnership which offered free Bronze-level Crest Award activity days. Here, 30 of our students participated in ‘Stop the Spread’, where they had to research and then create a device which would help people in developing countries effectively wash their hands. One of the groups ended up being shortlisted for their exceptional design!

This partnership also allowed us to connect with the director of the Oxford International Biomedical Centre. They have put us in touch with endless amount of professionals who are so keen to volunteer and work with us in creating a diverse and innovative Friday Careers Talk programme. On a Friday, students listen to local professionals from STEAM careers as they share their career pathways. So far, we have been fortunate to have an archaeologist, a venture capitalist who invests in satellites, and a junior doctor, just to name a few.

Drop Down Days

Our STEAM days, if they are to be impactful and really engage the students, could easily have the potential to set us back in excess of £1000/day. Luckily though, for our first Drop Down STEAM day, we worked in association with the Arts Mark, Larkmead school, and a couple of other partner schools, all of whom helped to ensure free funding to run this day. The event focused on our summer transition reading book, Jordan Stratford’s The Case of the Missing Moonstone.

Here, the students had to solve a crime to find out which member of staff stole the Moonstone, the reasons why they did it, and its current whereabouts. They did this through a number of workshops, including one lead by Drama and Dance teachers - they focused on putting together a routine to show Rosalind Franklin’s frustration and struggle with Watson and Crick, and the discovery of the DNA double-helix structure. Two workshops led by Science Oxford looked at Forensics Analysis and micro:bit coding. Our final session looked at the Science of a hot air balloon (as used by two characters in the book), which led to the students creating a 3D model in their Art session. What’s more, Jordan - the Canadian author behind this book - has approached us about joining us as our writer in residence as he takes a sabbatical and travels to the UK!

Cross-Curricular Projects

One of our first cross-curricular projects we developed across Science and Maths was the celebration of Ada Lovelace Day, which takes place on October 11th every year. For those of you who do not know, Ada Lovelace was an English mathematician, best known as the first computer programmer. There were plenty of engaging tasks to be found on resource-sharing platforms, which focused on the use of a ciphertext to decode an encryption.

Another one of our projects was based around the Race for the Line Competition. Again, it was a brilliant opportunity to get all students involved, and was quite easy to get involvement from all of the STEAM subjects. Within this race for the line competition, we worked with Williams F1 and McCarthy & Stone to create an Art competition. This saw students design their own car using the Williams F1 base as their core, and then develop from there. Benefits of working with external organisations included the fact that not only did McCarthy & Stone arrange prizes for the students; they also donated money to our Arts department. After their initial designs, students then had to make tweaks to come up with their final design, and also had to demonstrate how they would assemble this. In Science, we looked at forces and shapes to help improve aerodynamics, and did some work calculating speed and acceleration. In DT, students started to shape their foam blocks, which was provided by Race for the Line (meaning that all we had to worry about providing was our wheels, which could be created using wooden dowels and milk top lids).

Part of the STEAM team. Left to right: Chris Hunt (assistant head), Hannah Wilson (headteacher), Paul Wright (lead practitioner designate for Computing), Anna Daubney (Maths mastery teacher).


We definitely have not figured out all of the potential cost-saving techniques available, but we do feel that we have made a good start for our STEAM provision. Being creative, and willing to collaborate with a range “Students designed their own car.”of organisations, has started successful community and industry dialogues. It has been exceptionally pleasing to find like-minded individuals who share our vision of placing arts at the heart of our STEAM curriculum, and to help us ensure that this innovation is communicated successfully to our students and school community.

Top Tips for Innovating Your Budget

1. Use social media to share what you are doing.
2. Connect with local professionals - they are keen to work with you.
3. Open your doors to external partners - they have budgets for outreach.
4. Utilise your resources - we have a small budget but a spacious site, so we leverage free event spaces for great opportunities.
5. By offering spaces rent-free to visiting artists and drama production companies, we have been recommended to other fantastic contacts - you reap what you sow!
6. Tap into your parent body - they have career experience and contacts to take advantage of.
7. Hold a TeachMeet in an area you want to develop - we had 50 people at our first #STEAM event, and will build on that this each year
8. Collaborate with local schools. We have saved money by sharing events, like a Maasai Warrior performance (see below) split between five of our feeder schools and ourselves.

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